At $15, a "Duck Stamp" is arguably the best investment a conservationist can make. More formally called the Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, the Duck Stamp was created in 1934. Hunters lobbied for this "tax" on themselves to ensure that waterfowl would forever fill the skies. A supplement to a state hunting license, a Duck Stamp is a federal license to hunt migratory waterfowl.Ninety-eight cents of every Duck Stamp dollar goes to the National Wildlife Refuge System to buy or lease wetland habitat. That's $14.70 from every stamp that goes directly to conservation. Since 1934, Duck Stamps have raised more than $800 million to protect and manage more than 6 million acres of wetlands.And what's good for ducks and geese is also good for common yellowthroats, marsh wrens, great blue herons, frogs, turtles, snakes, beaver, muskrats, mink, and myriad fish, butterflies, dragonflies and other invertebrates. In fact, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that one-third of the nation's endangered and threatened species are found on National Wildlife Refuges.Though duck hunters are required to buy a Duck Stamp every year, every birder, wildlife watcher, hiker and nature photographer should buy one voluntarily to support wetland conservation. Duck Stamps also act as a pass into refuges that charge an admission fee. Visit two or three refuges during a year, and the stamp pays for itself. And each Duck Stamp is a miniature work of collectable art.Furthermore, wetlands provide much more than wildlife habitat. Wetlands purify water supplies, store floodwaters, reduce soil erosion and sedimentation, and provide spawning area for many fish.This year's Duck Stamp features a beautiful male common goldeneye. It can be purchased at larger post offices, some outdoors stores, or online at www.duckstamp.com
. Junior Duck Stamps ($5) also can be purchased at these locations. Proceeds from Junior Duck Stamps support conservation education programs, so they're great for students, parents and educators, as well as hunters and birders.To see images of all the Ducks Stamps dating back to 1934, visit www.fws.gov/duckstamps/federal/stamps/fedimages.htm
.Not everyone loves the Duck Stamp concept. One such group is promoting the creation of a new stamp -- a "Wildlife Conservation Stamp."
To quote the group's website, "WildlifeConservationStamp.org is a collaborative effort to promote a new wildlife stamp and funding stream for our National Wildlife Refuges. We are birders, photographers, conservationists, wildlife rehabilitators, scientists, teachers and artists ... joined by a common passion and concern for our nation's wildlife and wild habitats. "We propose the Wildlife Conservation Stamp to provide a consistent source of income for our Refuges, separate but parallel to the current Federal Duck Stamp program. The Wildlife Conservation Stamp would raise fees from the millions of non-consumptive users, wildlife viewers and conservationists ..."Sounds just like a Duck Stamp, except the new stamp ignores hunters. One comment on the website articulates this bias thusly: "I never did buy Duck Stamps because I felt it misrepresented my interests and goals for the use of the funds. This would be a great idea, especially if it were targeted and directed to strictly non-extractive nature pursuits ... But, would it still be supporting hunter's interests with these funds? That is why I don't buy the Duck Stamp. Would this just be a Duck Stamp with another name, or would the funds actually go towards conservation of wildlife, habitat, and non-extractive enjoyment of nature? What would the difference be?"Unfortunately, the ignorance illustrated by the above comment is appallingly common. Such comments fail to understand that most species that thrive on refuges are not hunted. Duck Stamp dollars support all species, not just hunted waterfowl.Furthermore, a conservation stamp has been tried before. It was just one of many ideas floated to fund the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act of 1980, which was intended to support and manage nongame species. Birders and other watchers never rallied around previous suggestions for a conservation stamp. And manufacturers and retailers of outdoor-related products opposed new taxes on their products to support wildlife conservation.But for $15, anyone can be a conservationist. Just buy a Duck Stamp.Contact Shalaway at email@example.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.